Process of the decline of wisdom
After stratification has forcefully imposed upon human society needed, some form of justification, to become acceptable. That meant a profound change in the way humanity perceived itself and the whole reality. Using Marxist jargon, we could say that this new stratified systems needed ideological support and justification. In modern terms, society had to be brainwashed to believe that the imposed hierarchy is natural and unavoidable.
The principal strategy to enforce the hierarchical world view was provided by the new patriarchal religions, supported by the philosophies, morality and law. All of them, except for original Buddhism, confirmed the social and economic stratification.
Let us have a closer look at some of the most important religions. We begin with Judaism because its foundation, the Old Testament, is the base of both Christianity and Islam, which, in turn, are the dominating religions in the modern world. They promote a fiercely patriarchal and hierarchical world view where the almighty God the Creator resides on the top. Together with Christianity and Islam plus original Judaism have over 3,8 billion adherents what means over 50% of the world population. Religions provided the basis for morality and legal systems, which invariably supported the upper class and private property rights. Here is a quote from the oldest Babylonial Hammurabi code: “if anyone steals the property of a temple or the court, he shall be put to death.” On the other hand, the punishment for killing other human beings depended who was killed: for example, if the victim was just a maidservant, there was only a monetary penalty.
The philosophies differ in their views, some like Confucianism strongly supported the hierarchy, others like Buddhism and Cynicism pointed to greed and aggression as the source of human problems.
To reinforce the brainwashing, humans had to change the view themselves and their relation with the world. More specifically, it needed the creation of a new conceptual apparatus, by far more complex than the existing one. During the Paleolithic and early Neolithic periods, humanity hardly created more concepts than those directly useful. They were pragmatic and directly relating to human needs and experiences. However, they were primitive: looking at technological inventions of Paleolithic people such as bow and arrows, production of fired pottery, using pigments in the cave paintings and smelting metals, could not be accomplished without such sophisticated ideas like the relation of cause to effect or ability to generalize.
However, new concepts that had to promote stratification had nothing to do with real human needs. Consequently, to ingrained them into individual and collective consciousness required consistent and ruthless indoctrination. Looking at our modern world, we have to admit that its results are highly successful.
Of course, we do not imply that it was consciously designed process. It has kept happening by itself via everyday experiences. For example, a slave who attempted to escape, if caught, was after being tortured, put to a painful death and un unfaithful wife was sentenced to be stoned. It gradually became clear that the wealthy ones deserve luxury, difficult to imagine by a poor peasant. Church or its equivalent inflicted fear of God. The education was consistently imposing ideas supporting existing hierarchy and a view that humanity fundamentally corrupt and prone to sin and has to be punished during this life and after.
It seems that there is no necessity to elaborate: it is sufficient to look at our life and see how influenced we are to conform. We are continually encouraged to listen to the authority of those positioned higher in the social hierarchy, those who are better educated, more successful, etc.
After a while, the process of inflicting concepts supporting stratification did not need some special efforts: it became sufficiently ingrained and all-pervasive. The multitude of concepts continually increase and become more sophisticated. Since they are tightly interconnected, they form a tight web in which we are imprisoned. Any attempts to question them become more and hopeless and dangerous.
How to decrease the power of concepts
Following the above, we may assume it is impossible to free ourselves from the power of concepts; that we are sentenced to be ruled by it like a fly imprisoned in a spider web.
This view may be reinforced by looking at the failure of the efforts of Buddha, who, 2,500 years ago, proclaimed ideas of freeing oneself from the power of three poisons via practicing meditation and austerity. And even more recent attempts to following Marx and Engels, at least, to free ourselves from the power of capitalism via revolution and class struggle. Neither of them seems to work.
The lack of success of either is due to their incompleteness. While Buddha focused on the root causes of concepts and proposed the path of meditation and austerity to eliminate them, he ignored the socio-economic reality – the society of monks and nuns was not an answer to world problems. Even modern Buddhists are not willing to address the totality of the world’s problems.
On the other hand, the lack of success of Marxism, anarchism and similar lies in their unwillingness to see that changing only the socio-economic and political systems without addressing the necessary revisions of individual and collective consciousness would not work either.
Learning from the failure of both approaches, I propose an alternative called Wisdom Society. It combines both: a method to bring our individual and social consciousness to its original state of wisdom as well as a proposal of a socio-economic system based on egalitarianism. Furthermore, it does not deny the need for a proper hierarchical administrative structure that does not compromise its egalitarian nature.
However, in this paper called “Wisdom Living,” we focus mainly on the work with our consciousness to gradually bring it back to its natural state of wisdom. The “Living” emphasizes the incorporation of wisdom into our lives within our current socio-economic system as it is, the globalized capitalism.
The main principle of the adopted here strategy is twofold: first, to gradually reduce the attachment to concepts in all our life situations and second, to eliminate those which are rooted in the three poisons.
The reduction of the attachment to concepts leads to the realization that they do not have inherent, objective existence. It results in reducing our emotional reaction to situations that contradict certain concepts.
Elimination of harmful concepts rooted at the three poisons often requires intellectual analysis to detect their relationship because it is not always apparent. For example, adherence to some political ideology usually comes from the belief that it is better than others. Why? We believe, for instance, that it secures our better retirements, that it will prevent the climate catastrophe, that it will make our country superior to others, that will eliminate social violence and so on. The first advantage directly relates to money; the second is somewhat naïve, so most likely, it comes from ignorance; the third refers to the desire for domination, where we identify ourselves with our state and the fourth again may come from wishful thinking rooted in ignorance.
Unfortunately, intellectual assessment of concepts is not sufficient to eliminate them. In real-life situations, when emotions flare up, all of the reasoning disappears, and a person reacts like an automaton and follows the ingrained habits. It should not be surprising because the concepts have been thousands of years systematically implanted into our individual and collective consciousness, while intellectual arguments quickly can be challenged by some counter-arguments. We are hardly aware that we react by following some concepts because we are so accustomed that such a reaction appears as something natural beyond questioning.
So it is evident that we need some alternative approach that reaches our consciousness more deeply than intellect alone. I decided to adopt here a method introduced by 14 century Tibetan sage Logchen Rabjam often called Longchempa. This adaptation is necessary because the language and metaphors of the original writing based on 14 century Tibetan culture and world view could be too difficult to accept for us used to a modern way of viewing reality.
However, before we present our alternative approach, it must be stressed that intellectual understanding of the mechanism of how concepts operate and control our lives, although it is not sufficient, must not be neglected. It provides the rationale base, which makes us more determined and confident.
Now we return to the Longchempa’s approach. Instead of focusing on concepts themselves, it is based on the reduction of the amount and intensity of thoughts. We will call this method, following English translation of Longchempa’s original, mind resting or shortly MR.
Concepts are undoubtedly structures residing in memory. Unfortunately, neuroscience does not provide a physical model for them. Nevertheless, it is clear that there creation and continuation are inseparable from thoughts involving them. Therefore more we think on topics involving concepts more chances they have to continue and more attached we become to them. Without thinking about them, attachment to concepts gradually fades. And this one of the principal reasons why MR is instrumental in weakening our attachment and belief in their objective existence.
The second benefit of the reduction of the number of useless thoughts (to refer further as “mental noise”), helps in the recovery of our innate wisdom. It happens because the energy of our mind becomes used to create its manifestations, such as discovering the essential aspects of phenomena, discerning, creativity and others.
Furthermore, this approach creates a “natural selection” for concepts. Those which are useful in our life will not be affected because the situations in which they are necessary naturally will keep emerging. On the other hand, the “poisonous” concepts which to which we are attached due to thinking about them will gradually lose their strength and less and less affect our lives.
I am aware that using MR as the principle practice appears to be too simplistic and lacs scientific justification. However, as I mentioned before, neuroscience does not, as yet, provide a more precise and better model of the concepts as structures of memory and mechanism of their interaction with thoughts. Nevertheless, the success of this kind of practice during the past several centuries speaks by itself.
To strengthen the process of elimination of the harmful concepts in Wisdom Living, we added another, more intellectual technique. It is based on the Chogyam Trungpa’s somewhat non-traditional interpretation of the paramitas, which originated in at six century in Mahayana teachings in India. I further adapted this practice to fit better in our modern reality calling the paramitas six attitudes. Their purpose is to provide an atmosphere that helps to see more vividly the harmful aspects of attachments to the poisonous concepts.